"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stoniest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not." (Matthew 23:37)
My text has been sadly handled by thieves and robbers, who have stripped it of its true meaning, clothed it with, "strange apparel," and forced it into the device of free-will and human power. My desire is, and my employ, by the help of God, shall be, to rescue it out of their hands, take off the filthy garments they have put upon it, and clothe it with a vesture taken from the wardrobe of Holy Scripture.
To stop, "the mouth of gainsayers," is one part of the work of a gospel minister; and, "Comfort ye, my people," is another: and I hope to be enabled to do both.
I remember, that many years since, I read an extract from Fletcher's, "Checks Against Antinomianism," which expressed, in substance, these words: "Let the Calvinists say what they may, 'I WOULD, AND YE WOULD NOT,' is left upon record to this day." My thoughts at the time were, They are; but so are these words, "I WILL, AND YOU SHALL." These latter words are repeatedly spoken in Scripture, and are peculiar to Almighty God. He only can savingly change the hearts of the sinful sons of men, and make the unwilling willing. Hence the precious promise, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." (Ps. 110:3) There never was a greater enemy to Christ and his cause, than Saul of Tarsus. Never one whose heart and conduct more rebelliously said, "I will not." But he was conquered by the Saviour's power; and in one moment became a humble suppliant; and to the end of his days was sincere lover, and a hearty follower of the Lord Jesus; an indefatigable preacher of his gospel, and a great, but willing sufferer for his cause and people. Oh! how would his loyal heart have burned with indignation against that writing and speaking, which would ascribe so great and blessed a change to any will and power of his own. No! it was his heart's desire and delight, to give all the glory of his conversion, preservation, and whole salvation, to the free, sovereign, eternal, immutable, abundant, and efficacious grace of God.
It is the latter part of my text I feel disposed to preach from: "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not," In explaining and proving the true meaning thereof, I would first, consider who is the speaker. But before I begin, I wish once more to remind you, of the observations I have frequently made, and which I conceive cannot be contradicted: That whatever comment upon any passage of Scripture, which is dishonorable to any of the glorious attributes of the Most High, contrary to other passages of Holy Writ, and which opposes stubborn facts, must be erroneous. I do hope, I shall be enabled to show and prove by the infallible Word of God, that such is the gloss put upon these words, by the advocates for free will and human power. The glorious person who addresses the inhabitants of Jerusalem, in the words of my text, is, "Jesus Christ...a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers," (Rom. 15:8) particularly that promise recorded by Moses, "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear;" (Acts 3:22) we are to view Christ as the Son of the living God, and also as the Son of Man. As the Son of God, he is, "the true God and eternal life;" (1 John 5:20) "over all, God blessed for evermore." (Romans 9:5) Of the same, "form," essence or nature of the everlasting Father. The eternal, immutable, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent Jehovah: to whom all things are possible.
As the Son of Man, he is truly and properly man: "of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting." As such, he had a human understanding, will, and affections. His understanding as man, was distinct from his omniscience as God. Hence it is said, "And Jesus increased is wisdom and stature; and in favor with God and man." (Lk. 2:52) This increase in wisdom, is incompatible with his, "unsearchable understanding," as the Son of God. There were some things, which, as man, he knew not. (Mk. 13:32)
Christ also, as the Son of Man, had a will distinct from the Divine will, or the will of God. A will that was subordinate and submissive to the will of his Father. Hence his prayer in the garden, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matt. 26:29) Again, he saith, "All that the Father giveth me, I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." (John 6:37,38) Certainly his will as the Son of God, was the same as his Father's. What that will was, he himself declares, "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." (John 6:39) Surely it was the will of the Son of God, to preserve from perishing, and to give eternal life to the many given to him by the Father. (John 10:28 & 17:2) I firmly believe, and my faith is grounded on many passages of Holy Writ, that the will of God, supremely, is the manifestation of the glorious persons and perfections of Jehovah in the sure and everlasting salvation of chosen sinners, by Christ crucified, to the eternal praise of the glory of his grace. The will of God is everlasting, immutable, and can neither be frustrated nor disappointed. The glorious plan of salvation was in the infinite mind of Jehovah from all eternity. The Son of God engaged, before all worlds, to accomplish in time and to all eternity, the covenant engagements of the holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity. Hence his goings forth are said to be, "from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2) Which passage clearly shows the pre-existence of the Son of God in the Divine Being. These goings forth, I understand to be, his lovingkindness, tender mercy, and sovereign will and pleasure, in the counsels of old, which are faithfulness and truth. Which counsels were between the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, to save sinners to the glory of infinite wisdom, grace, mercy, justice, holiness, truth, and power. His will, therefore, as the Son of God, was the same as the Father's; and he came from heaven to fulfill it. It remains, that the will he came not to do, was the will of his human nature. The Jews, viewing him as mere man, frequently charged him with seeking his own honor. This charge he often refuted, by declaring he sought not his own honor, but the honor of him that sent him. And to the same purpose is this declaration, "I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me." (John 6:38) As the Son of Man, it was his desire to save Jerusalem from that destruction he foresaw would come upon it. Therefore he labored by his doctrines, miracles, invitations, and warnings, to bring them to the belief and acknowledgment of himself as the true Messiah. Hence, his compassionate complaint, recorded in the prophecies of Isaiah: "Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught, and in vain: yet surely, my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God." (Isa. 49:4) Submitting his will to the will of his heavenly Father, he encourages himself thus, "Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength." (Isa. 49:5)
The Son of Man had also affections peculiar to human nature. In him they were pure, but they were natural. I believe it to be natural affection towards John, that caused him to be mentioned as the, "disciple whom Jesus loved." (John 21:7) Not but what John was loved by the Son of God with an everlasting love, and consequently was saved by him with an everlasting salvation. But it is my firm belief, grounded on the perfection of Divine love, which cannot admit of any greater or smaller, more or less, addition, diminution, or change, that it was the natural love of the Son of Man, that is meant in these words: "That disciple whom Jesus loved." (John 21:7) But should this be disputed, I think it must be granted, that what is said of the ruler, who running to him, kneeled down, and asked him, "What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" "Then Jesus beholding him, loved him." Surely this could not be with his eternal, fruitful love as God. Christ, as Jehovah, wanted not power to change his heart, as he did the hearts of Matthew and Zaccheus, and enable him to leave all and follow the Lord Jesus. Remarkable are the words of our Saviour upon that occasion. When, in consequence of our Lord telling his disciples, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God," they with astonishment exclaim, "Who then can be saved? and Jesus looking upon them, saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." (Mk. 10:17-27) Therefore, had the Saviour loved him with the love of God, that love being joined with omnipotence, he would have made him willing to part with all, that he might win Christ, and be found in him.
As the Son of Man, he had natural affections: as a Jew, he had a peculiar attachment to his own nation: being full of the Spirit, he had spiritual affections, which can only reach spiritual objects; and as the Son of God, his love is eternal, immutable, free, and fruitful, and embraces only, but all-sufficiently, the objects of his Father's eternal choice, the many that were given to him as Mediator, to be saved by him with an eternal salvation.
The important question therefore is: Whether the Saviour is speaking to and of Jerusalem, as the Son of God, or as the Son of Man, and the minister of the circumcision? I shall endeavor to prove by Scripture that he only expressed his desire and feeling as the Son of Man, and not as the Son of God. First, then, I would observe, that the words, "How often would I," cannot be applicable to the will of God. That will is the same from eternity to eternity. It is only our frail nature that can will frequently. Also that the will of God cannot possibly fail of its accomplishment. The omnipotence of Jehovah is engaged to perform whatever he hath purposed. The blessed apostle, treating of redemption by the blood of Christ, saith, "Wherein he hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ." (Eph. 1:8-12) What an amazing, and to the children of promise, what a blessed, contrast is here, to the Jerusalem after the flesh. Here is the mystery of God's will revealed, that he determined to gather together all things in Christ: and accomplished his will in the dispensation of the fullness of times, that is, by the finished work of Christ on the cross, the preaching of the everlasting gospel, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That blessed Spirit making the preached gospel effectual, by the working of his mighty power, to draw the hearts of the chosen people of God to his dearly beloved Son, as their dear Saviour, Lord, and God. Hence the Redeemer declared in the days of his flesh, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto me." (John 12:32) Not, "all men;" for the word, "men," is not in the original; but all my sheep, all my people, all that the Father hath given me. This will cannot be disappointed, nor fail of its accomplishment. For God worketh all things after the counsel of, "his own will." Therefore believing in Christ, which is represented as coming to him, is ascribed by the apostle to the operation of God: and, saith he, "we first trusted in Christ, to the praise of his glory:" the glory of his sovereign, effectual, all conquering-grace.
Another proof I would bring from Scripture is, that Jesus, in a similar passage to my text, is said to weep over Jerusalem. The words are, "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at the least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come, etc." (Lk. 19:41) Surely the free-will-mongers will not ascribe weeping to his Godhead. Tears are peculiar to the sons of men. It is evident, therefore, that his language to the Jerusalem, which was in bondage with all her children, is that of their minister, and not of the Son of God, as such.
Again, as the Omniscient God he had foretold the conduct and the destruction of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, upwards of a thousand years before they were destroyed. And surely he could not will, as God, what he knew to be contrary to the determination of God. In the first chapter of the book of Proverbs, the only begotten of the Father, under the name and character of Wisdom, speaks thus: she crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the opening of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple one, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning? and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; (see John 3:32) But ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh. When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you." (Prov. 1:20-27) How exactly, how awfully was this prediction verified in the destruction of Jerusalem! The common people were simple, easy to be imposed upon, and loved their simplicity. The scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, were the scorners, who delighted in their scorning; and those who said, "Are we blind also?" (John 9:40) Were complete fools, who hated knowledge. They despised the Saviour's words, and at last he sent his armies to destroy those murderers, with such a destruction as was never before heard of.
My text is intended to manifest the very reverse of what the free-willers ascribe to it. The purpose of the Saviour is, not to show the fickleness, feebleness, and disappointment of his will; but the blindness, obduracy, perverseness, enmity, and rebellion of the scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For the scribes and Pharisees, and the ecclesiastical and civil rulers of Jews, are those that he signifies by, "Ye would not." It is not said, "How often would I have gathered thy children and they would not." No! The Saviour, from the 13th verse of the chapter is inveighing against the scribes and Pharisees. He commences his reproofs by saying, "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering, to go in." It is the gospel dispensation, that is in those words meant by the kingdom of heaven. The Sanhedrin excommunicated all that professed Jesus to be the Messiah. And for fear of being put out of the synagogue, those who were convinced he was the Messiah, and would have acknowledged him as such, did not profess him. (see John 9:22 & 12:42) We may safely draw this inference from my text, that such is the blindness of the natural understanding through sin, the pride and hardness of the carnal heart, that notwithstanding all the stupendous miracles of mercy which Christ wrought daily before their eyes; all the gracious doctrines he preached; all the exhortations, instructions, warnings, cautions, and threatenings he gave; notwithstanding his holy life; his going about continually doing good; and his answering every description of the Messiah, which was recorded in their Scriptures, and read every Sabbath day in their synagogues; they would not receive him, they would not come unto him. These wonderful outward means that they were favored with; which they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears, day by day, had no good effect upon them. Is not this a full proof of the awful depravity of human nature, and the determined perverseness of the natural will? And that nothing less than the omnipotent working of the Spirit of grace can deliver it from its state of bondage to sin and Satan. These things the evangelist John was inspired to leave upon record. "But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? (John 12:37,38) What does that quotation from the prophecies of Isaiah show but this, that the heart is so deceitful and desperately wicked, and the mind so blind, and the will so perverse, that nothing less than the arm of the Lord revealed, or the power of the Spirit of God put forth, can cause any one to believe to the saving of the soul: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." (John 6:44) This power the Lord was not pleased to display in their behalf. It was not his will, as God, to pluck them as brands from the burning, "Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart: that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of HIM." (John 12:39-41) We are not to understand by these sayings, that God found them a seeing, pliant, obedient people; and blinded and hardened them. No; by no means. But that God left them in that awful state which sin and Satan had plunged them into; and by his providences, particularly sending his Son among them, caused that blindness and hardness to manifest themselves, more than they otherwise would or could do.
I would further observe, there is nothing in my text to prove, that, eternal salvation of sinners by Christ is at all treated of. The context evidently implies, and the similar passages, (Lk. 19:41-44) clearly expresses, a temporal destruction of the city by the Roman Armies. This they brought themselves by rejecting the Messiah. The Saviour never required the faith of God's elect, who believe to the salvation of their souls, to be exercised by carnal, that is, unregenerate man. But he justly could, and certainly did require, such an obedient assent to him as the Messiah, which reason itself, had it not been perverted by pride, self-interest, prejudice, and malice, would have yielded. The Jews heard him speak as never man did. It is recorded in Mark 6, "And many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?" (verse 2) They knew him, his kindred, and breeding; and each of these particulars should have induced them to have acknowledged him, to be a man sent of God, and that no man could do those things which he did, unless God was with him. The very miracles he wrought, they ascribed to Beelzebub; and the words he spake, to Satan himself: "He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?" (John 10:20) Again, I would remark, that the Jews held the land of Canaan under a conditional covenant. Obedience to the Mosaic dispensation was the tenure upon which they were entitled to long life, peace and prosperity, in the holy land. In addition to their breaking the holy commands of the covenant, teaching others to break them also, and making them void by their traditions; and by neglecting, perverting and abusing the ordinances thereof; they also added to all their crimes a disbelief of Moses' prophecies of Christ. To this the Saviour alludes, when he said unto the Jews, "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:45-47) Moses foretold that a prophet would the Lord their God raise up into them, from among their brethren, like unto himself; and threatens, that whosoever will not hearken unto the voice of that prophet, it should be required of him. Peter applies that prophecy to Christ, and says, "It shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people." (Acts 3:22,23) Christ proved himself to be that prophet, by the heavenly wisdom with which he taught, the pure doctrines he preached, the wonderful works he performed, and the holy life which he led. But they turned a deaf ear to his words, and hardened their hearts against every miracle he wrought: and falsely and maliciously charged him, with being a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. So wrath came upon them to the uttermost: not because they did not believe in him, with a saving faith: but for not believing him to be the Messiah of whom all the prophets had written, and which he, by words and deeds, so evidently manifested himself to be; and for not obeying him as such.
And now, my friends, for the blessed reverse. There is a Jerusalem which is from above, and is the mother of us all. The apostle contrasts this heavenly, to the earthly Jerusalem, which, he saith, is in bondage with her children; and to whom the words belong, "I would, and ye would not." This is old covenant language: expressing man's duty, but not the purpose of God. To the heavenly Jerusalem, the church and people of the living God, whose names are enrolled in heaven, the new covenant language is, "I will and you shall." The ancient prophecy is, "And unto him shall the gathering of the people be." (Gen. 49:10) The unfailing prediction, and the precious, unconditional promise, are, "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children." (Isa. 54:13) And again, "They shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:34) From the former prophecy of Isaiah, the Saviour declares, "Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me." (John 6:45) And again, "All that the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37) And again, "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47) The Father teaches all his predestinated children, by his Holy Spirit, out of the law. In which glass, the depravity of their nature, the secret sins of their hearts, the outward sinfulness of their lives, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the wrath of God, against all the unrighteousness and ungodliness of men, their lost, hopeless, and helpless condition, are experimentally manifested into them by the light of life, which is imparted to them by the Holy Spirit. This teaching brings to the ground, even to the dust, (Isa. 26:5) all the high reasonings and lofty imaginations of free-will and human power: undermines and destroys all legal and self-righteous hopes; and brings the sinner into a self-despairing state, without either hope or help in or of himself. This teaching is intended, and is effectual, to bring us off, and to drive us out, from all confidence in the flesh, all trust in our heart, and all reliance upon our own arm or strength; but it never did, never will, never can gather one soul to Christ. Well doth our poet say:
"Since to convince, and to condemn,
Is all the law can do."
We are not driven, but drawn to Christ. The gathering to him, is not by force, though it is by power. All that the Father hath loved with an everlasting love, are drawn with loving-kindness to the dear Saviour of sinners, that they might find shelter under his sin-atoning blood, his everlasting righteousness, his all-sufficient grace, and his almighty strength. It is a revelation of Christ, as exhibited in the gospel of his glory, seen by the eye of faith, in the light of the Holy Spirit, who testifies of Christ as a perfect, willing, and everlasting Saviour of all that come unto him, laden with sin, guilt, and wrath, and who labor in vain, and are wearied with their labor, to make themselves good, which is the means that God has appointed, and which he himself uses, to bring the chosen vessel to the fellowship of Christ.
The gospel of Christ is not a yea and nay gospel. The better covenant, the heavenly Jerusalem, is established upon better promises than the Sinai covenant. The latter was deficient, principally, in these two respects: It communicated no power to the people, to enable them to obey; and it had no security of continuance of the Divine regard or favor. But the bringing in of the new covenant provided for both. Hence its gracious promises, "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." (Jer. 31:33) Again, "And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts; that they shall not depart from me." (Jer. 32:40) Oh! what a pure, what blessed language is this! how different to that addressed to the Jerusalem mentioned in my text: "I would, but ye would not." Blessed, for ever blessed be God, my dear friends, that he ever unstopped our deaf ears, that we might hear and know the joyful sound: opened our long closed eyes, that we might see that JUST ONE; and enlarged our hearts, to receive him in faith and affection.
The apostle saith, that Sarah and Hagar were, by an allegory, the two covenants. The one from Mount Sinai; the other the Jerusalem that is from above. All whom the sovereignly gracious Lord causeth to pass under the rod, and bringeth into the bond of that covenant, (Ezek. 20:37) are the inhabitants of Mount Sion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. These the Saviour addresses in various passages of Scripture, in substance thus: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which I have built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, for my own habitation: here will I dwell, having desired it, here will I rest for ever; you have, by the gracious teachings and operations of my Holy Spirit, received me into your heart's love by precious faith as the true Messiah, the sent of God to save sinners; you have heartily loved my prophets, and those that have been sent unto you. My eternal and immutable will is, to take you wholly under my care, protection, and keeping. I will spread my wings over you, and under the shadow thereof, my love and power, you shall find refuge till every calamity is overpast. The gates of hell may and will assault you, but they shall not prevail over you. Men shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against you, shall fall for your sake. The world may allure or affright, ensnare, entangle, distress you, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world, therefore it shall not overcome you. The devil may tempt, accuse, and condemn, but the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. Sin also, may oppose, harass, and grieve you, but sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace; and grace shall reign through righteousness unto eternal life through me, your Lord and Saviour."